Boise & Garden City

Danger, thin ice! Boise prohibits playing on frozen park ponds.

The city plans to put out more permanent signs like this around Esther Simplot Park to keep people off the pond. Someone ignored the sign and made a smiley face in snow on the ice.
The city plans to put out more permanent signs like this around Esther Simplot Park to keep people off the pond. Someone ignored the sign and made a smiley face in snow on the ice.

The giant pond at Boise’s new Esther Simplot Park is largely frozen over — and it’s inviting. Some were out skating and playing hockey on it last weekend, and there are human and animal prints in the snow all over the ice.

But playing on that pond, or any other pond in the city’s 90-plus parks, is prohibited due to danger, said Boise City Parks & Recreation Director Doug Holloway.

He’s using his authority as parks director to make the ponds off limits — fishing from shore is still allowed — while there’s ice present. At least five dogs have fallen through the ice at city park ponds this winter.

“We’re not in the environment that we believe the ice gets hard enough for extended periods of time,” Holloway said. “We do not do the necessary testing to say, ‘This is safe for you to be on.’”

December was unusually cold. It was the 5th coldest December at the airport since 1940 (the first year records were kept there) and the 7th coldest for the broader Boise area since 1864.

It’s unclear how deep the ice is in the section where a group of boys were playing hockey over the weekend but sections of the pond are nearly 50 feet deep, Holloway said.

There is at least one permanent “unsafe ice” sign at Esther Simplot Park pond — on the north side of the pond — and other permanent signs have been ordered.

Holloway said city parks staff have since put out some temporary signs warning people of the danger and making it clearer that the pond is off limits during the winter.

Their danger to dogs is extreme. At least five dogs have fallen through Boise park ponds this winter: two at Optimist Youth Sports Complex (one died), two Redwood Park (one died) and one at DeMeyer Park, Holloway said. Eagle Fire Department in December responded to two incidents in the same week of dogs falling through ice.

Three city parks are entirely dog off-leash this winter: Ann Morrison Park, Optimist and Esther Simplot. Dog owners should be particularly wary of dogs running onto thin ice after birds.

“If we have animals falling through the ice, no one can guarantee that the ice at Esther Simplot Park where people are skating is safe to be on,” Holloway said. “We’re just not in the heart of Minnesota, where the ice thickens to 6 feet.”

This is not an “enter at your own risk” situation. Starting Tuesday, it will be a violation of city code to go out on the ice in city parks. Holloway said they don’t want to cite people but they could; the penalties include a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 180 days in jail.

“We’re not advocating that. It’s more about education — asking them to get off the ice and explaining why,” Holloway said.

This includes frozen water in the parks that appear to be fairly safe, like the storm drainage retention pond that’s near the entrance of Esther Simplot Park. At least one skater was doing loops on that in recent weeks.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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